Dear Tom and Ray:
With talk about the potential (though unlikely) event of a large solar flare directly hitting Earth, some high-tech engineering types are discussing the merits of using homemade Faraday cages to protect electronics and power-generating equipment and vehicle computers. Rather than place in the garage a large, galvanized steel container that's large enough to park a car in after the container has been lined with insulation and add a conductive layer around the car, I'm thinking it would be more practical to just buy a spare car and maintain it, albeit one that does not have any electronic controls. I'm thinking a carbureted vehicle built before the '80s would do the trick. The question I have is, Would a car with a carburetor built prior to 1980 continue to run (assuming that it can run OK prior to this potential event) after Earth has been hit with a large solar flare, similar to the Carrington Event of 1859, which was strong enough to cause electrical shocks to telegraph operators? Also, what would be a suggested vehicle to keep for such an event? — Larry
Ray: Well, we all remember what chaos the world was cast into after the 1859 Carrington Event, Larry. Life, as we knew it, was extinguished. I mean, try finding a telegraph operator today! Where are they? You think it's a coincidence that you can't find a telegraph operator anymore?
Tom: Doesn't anybody screen these letters?
Ray: Actually, I think it's a very reasonable question, Larry. We'll do our best to help you out.
Tom: OK. In order to avoid being automotively stranded by some sort of major, Earth-wide electrical disturbance, you need to go back to before computers were used to manage engines, and before electronic ignition. That would put you in the early 1970s.
Ray: I think the car for you is a 1972 Dodge Dart, Larry. It's proven pretty reliable. Since it has a nerdy cult following, there are lots of parts still available for these cars. It has a one-barrel Holley carburetor and no important electronics that would be affected by electromagnetic radiation. In fact, it doesn't have any electronics at all.
Tom: Or, here's another idea: How about a nice, 1971 Chevy Kingswood Estate Wagon? That's got a nice, simple, carbureted V-8 engine, and the fake wood paneling should survive any electrical event. Plus, a full-size station wagon will give you plenty of room to carry around the provisions you'll need for the next 50 years.
Ray: But whatever car you get, just to be on the safe side, you might want to take the radio out and wrap it in tinfoil.
Tom: But don't use all of your tinfoil. You'll need to have enough left over to make your hat, Larry. Godspeed.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)